Doctor Who has a tradition of making pseudo-historical episodes, in which the Doctor travels back to a significant point in history, and often meets someone famous from that era, learns about them, and then helps them out. It has been an important element of the show since the original incarnation, as evidenced by episodes such as Marco Polo, The Aztecs, and The Highlanders. And this continued in the new series in episodes such as The Empty Child, The Shakespeare Code, Victory of the Daleks, and the excellent Vincent and the Doctor. It is fun to see the Doctor play around in these memorable moments from history, and it is also semi-educational for children, who make up a large portion of Doctor Who’s audience.
The Curse of the Black Spot falls in to the pseudo-historical category, and it was an episode definitely aimed at the younger Who audience. The success of The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise has made heroes out of the bearded, swashbuckling, rulers of the sea, and on paper Doctor Who and pirates sounds like a recipe for unbridled fun, but it all felt a little bland. It’s always nice to have a breather, especially after the mind-boggling two-part opener, but there is a very thin line between “breather episode” and “filler episode”, and unfortunately, The Curse of the Black Spot falls in to the latter category.
Episode 3 Review: Yo Ho Ho and a Bottle of Meh!
The episode takes place on a 17th century pirate ship, captained by Henry Avery played by the always brilliant Hugh Bonneville, seen most recently as the Head of the Olympic Deliverance Commission in the hilarious Twenty Twelve. Avery’s crew is quickly dwindling due to a supposedly demonic Siren, that hunts for the weak and wounded, and removes them from the ship.
In the opening scene we see a crew member with the smallest of cuts on his finger, and on his palm appears a black spot. This minor injury is the cause of unusual fear amongst the rest of the crew, this isn’t the first time something like this has happened for these followers of the Jolly Roger. “The Siren is a calling,” says one of pirates, as the ominous melody rings out in the background. The crew lock themselves below deck, as the wounded pirate is taken. “No sign of a struggle. No bones or blood,” says Captain Avery, and this is the first sign that the Siren is not all she seems.
The Doctor, Amy, and Rory are ship stowaways, or so Captain Avery and his crew believe, and therefore they have to walk the plank. These opening scenes fulfilled all the piratey-goodness we expected from this episode: plank walking, hearty pirate laughter, sword fighting etc. I’m sure this was exciting for the kiddies, but it all felt a little pirate-by-numbers, and because we we’re given all the key pirate-esque moments within the opening ten minutes, it made the majority of the episode rather slow-going and tedious.
During Amy’s impressive sword fighting, Rory gets cut in the scuffle (not a euphemism!), and the black spot emerges on his palm. “If something is going to kill you, it’s nice that it drops you a note to remind you.” We then get our first look at the Siren, played by the already weird-looking Lily Cole (it’s those eyebrows!), made even weirder by appearing in a greeny-turquoise glow. Her singing has a hypnotic effect on those she has marked. I did enjoy Rory and the black pirate drunkenly swaying about, giggling, and talking about how brilliant beards are, it was as if they’d just downed a whole barrel of rum.
The Siren’s change from tranquil turquoise to devilish red was very effective. The scariest part of the episode by miles.
Again, the most meaty parts of the episode were stuck at the beginning, the piratey stuff, and the reveal of the Siren, and it left the remainder of the episode, until the climax, feeling very lackluster. The middle of the episode was a lot of the Doctor going back and forth on his theories, originally thinking the Siren arrived through still-water, then later retracting that statement, and revealing she actually manifests through reflective surfaces, which lead to the Doctor smashing windows and mirrors, although aren’t broken bits of glass still reflective? I’m not sure if this was simply a case of plot twists, or if it was supposed to be character development on the part of the Doctor, becoming unsure of himself, maybe it was both. Though I did like the recurring phrase “Ignore my last theory” because I feel I may need to use that myself later in to the series!
That’s the problem with “filler episodes” though, there isn’t a whole lot to get your teeth stuck in to, and very little to discuss in ways of theorising or speculation. There were some cool bits throughout the episode though, the TARDIS disappearing, the storm, the return of the Eye Patch Lady (which I’ll discuss in a minute), and Matt Smith was on top form as the Doctor.
The Doctor was very funny this episode, and lightened up the screen after the less engaging scenes, particularly the clichéd broken Father/Son relationship between Captain Avery and Toby, which was acted perfectly fine, but was just not engrossing in the slightest. But just when you were beginning to pick your fingernails, the Doctor would come out with a witty quip, here are some of my favourite Doctor lines from this episode:
"I don’t have the cool boots…or the hat even." (continuing the Doctor’s love for head gear)
"A green singing shark in an evening gown."
"Freud would say you’re compensating."
"That’s what killed it…didn’t get its jabs."
And the scene with the Doctor and Captain Avery inside the TARDIS was fun.
Things didn’t pick up again until the end when the Doctor, Amy, and the Captain cut themselves (that sounds wrong!), and were willingly taken by the Siren. They ended up on a spaceship that was occupying the same space as the 17th pirate ship, trapped in a temporal shift, like two cars parked in the same spot as the Doctor put it. The Doctor explains that there are many universes, and they sometimes collide, and it allows you to step between them - although he then says “It’s not like that at all, but if that helps.”
We discover that the ship crew, Toby, the partially drowned Rory, and the TARDIS are all aboard the spaceship. They are in a sick-bay, held in suspended animation. The Siren isn’t killing them, she is in fact a virtual doctor, taking tissue samples of the wounded, hence the black spots. Her singing acts as an anaesthetic. After her original alien crew died, she began taking the injured from the pirate ship, and kept them alive, but she doesn’t know how to actually heal them.
It was a nice twist, one that has been used before in Doctor Who, the supposedly bad person turning out to have good intentions, but it was pulled off very well in this episode. Captain Avery decided to stay aboard the spaceship and allow the Siren to look after his sick son, and in doing so created what could be a whole new show called Pirates In Space!
What really annoyed me though was the CPR scene between Rory and Amy. I thought it was a cop out to once again have Rory’s “almost death” as a pivotal plot point, we’ve seen it so many times now that it lacks the gravitas and suspense it originally did. And CPR scenes are so overdone in film and television, in fact, when Rory was explaining to Amy what she needs to do he said “You’ve seen them do it loads in films.” Exactly my point! It was another case of “Do Amy and Rory truly love each other?”, a question that in my mind has been answered sufficiently, he waited 2000 years for her, of course they love each other! It all felt unnecessary and slightly insulting.
The episode ended with a flashback (forward?) to the Doctor’s death from Episode 1, and the Doctor doing yet another pregnancy scan on Amy. Both Amy and the Doctor are keeping secrets from each other, that are sure to come to a head sooner or later.
The Curse of the Black Spot wasn’t a terrible episode by any means, it had its fun moments and nice performances, but it lacked any real substance in the grand scheme of things, and I think after this series is done this episode will be largely forgotten about.
There was one moment however that I would like to briefly touch upon.
While Amy was asleep she once again saw the Eye Patch Lady. An illusion? A dream? Not quite sure, but what the Eye Patch Lady said was very interesting. “It’s fine. You’re doing fine. Just stay calm.” A popular theory doing the rounds is that this lady is Amy’s midwife, people said this last week but I wasn’t sure, it seemed too early to make that assumption, but after this week I’m now on board with that line of thinking. “You’re doing fine. Just stay calm” are typical things said during labour, and the white walls where the Eye Patch Lady is are very clinical looking.
I guess this means I’m now believing that Amy is actually pregnant, so ignore my previous theories up until this point! Saying that, although I now think Amy is pregnant, I still don’t think that has anything to do with the Little Girl we saw regenerating at the end of The Day of the Moon, I think Amy’s baby and the Little Girl are separate entities, and I’m sticking with my theory that the Little Girl is the Doctor, for now.
After a very average episode, I have massive expectations for next week’s The Doctor’s Wife, written by legendary sci-fi writer Neil Gaiman, and featuring the underrated but immensely talented Suranne Jones. And judging from the previews, TARDIS corridors!
by Martin Holmes
The Impossible Astronaut Review: http://bit.ly/esSJmD
The Day of the Moon Review: http://bit.ly/iMyZ1f